Going Greek! Part 2: Himations & Tunics

Costume Construction, Costume History, Eureka! The National Children's Museum, Fashion History, Realised Design

Yassou! Kalimera! (That’s out of our Ancient Greek script, and they mean “hello!” and “good morning!” in Greek.) Welcome to Part 2 of the Greeks, in which we explore ancient menswear.

First, the tunic! Or chitoniskos if you want to be technical about it. A chitoniskos is basically a big Ancient Greek tee shirt, as seen on vase paintings like this:

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Going Greek! Part 1: Hellenic Chitons

Costume Construction, Costume History, Eureka! The National Children's Museum, Fashion History, Realised Design

Good news guys! I recently got the opportunity to design and make the costumes for Eureka!’s latest school workshop, The Ancient Greeks. Woohoo!

In the past Eureka! has sourced all of its costumes for special events and workshops from a fancy dress company called Smiffys, so I was chuffed to be asked to take on the project.

I found this handy website, essentially a manual on ancient Greek costume construction and draping. It all looked so simple, and I thought it’d be a breeze. That is, until I realized just exactly¬†how much fabric you need to make a 2m x4m rectangle for an Ionic peplos (or Hellenic chiton, as I prefer to call it).

1940s Toile

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Right, so now we’re going back a bit to the beginning of our 1940s project. I had already found a brilliant Liberty silk that I knew I wanted to use for this project, so I chose my design with the fabric in mind. Not to mention the fact that by this point I was exhausted and wanted something I knew I could achieve in a week, e.g. no sleeves, no collar, no darts, no boning. I’d also never made anything really drape-y and flow-y before, so I wanted to try something new while I had the luxury of Pauline’s expert guidance.

This is what I arrived at:

The first step was to draft a pattern for the skirt, and then make that up into a toile to drape on the stand. I adapted the pattern from a similar skirt that I got out of an original 1940s pattern drafting book:

Instead of putting the funny bulge at the side front seams, we moved them to the side seams to create a drape over the hip. There wasn’t loads of fabric going spare, so I made a mini-skirt version to start with:

It took some trial and error, but eventually we arrived at a pattern that would do the job:

After the skirt pattern was sorted I moved onto the bodice. I decided I want a cowl back and again adapted a pattern from the magic 1940s book:

Again it took some trial and error, but we cracked it in the end. The front was essentially a basic bodice block that we allowed to hang loosely rather than put any darts in, and with most of the neckline cut down to create a sweetheart shape.

Once the patterns were finished, it was time to make a proper toile in a fabric similar to the silk. I had to make two toiles of the skirt: one cut on the bias and one cut on the straight, to see which would drape better. Initially we thought on the bias would be best, but then the drapes turned out a bit too floppy and saggy, so we decided to cut it on the straight.

To be fair, the fact that I put the bias-cut toile on the form without a bum probably didn’t do it any favors (right). Even so, cutting it on the straight was best because the real silk was a lot drapier than the toile fabric.

Here’s me in the toile for the fitting:

You’ll have to forgive the Christmas colors; there wasn’t enough of any one fabric to make it all one color. That also explains why the back of the skirt is longer than the front.

There was still a bit of tweaking to do on the front neckline, but eventually I arrived at this:

And that’s where I was by the end of our first 1940s week.

Next post, I’ll have pictures up of the dress in the proper fabric. Stay tuned!

Bustle, Bodice, & Buttons

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There’s nothing more debilitating than having a few days off. Going back to York on Monday, I had the same groggy feeling I get when I wake up exhausted after finally getting the sleep I thought I needed. I spent the whole day in a dozy fog that I couldn’t seem to snap out of. Fortunately it was a day spent drafting patterns for my bustle dress, so it wasn’t too demanding and I managed to not fall behind. Good start.

So, that was Monday. I spent all day Tuesday cutting out and making up the skirt and drape, and all day today draping the bodice. Here are the fruits of my labor:

foundation skirt

bustle apron back view

bustle apron front view

bustle apron and drape

draping on the stand

finalized bodice drape

So after I got to that stage at about 4.30 this afternoon, it was a mad rush to get the proper toile pieces all cut and sewn together. The goal was to be finished by 6; I left at 7.20. I think I made damn good time considering I am generally quite pernickity and slow when it comes to sewing, and these are all awkward curved seams.

Tomorrow it’s sleeves and decoration samples (in my case, a whole lot of box-pleating), and then it’s fittings on Friday!

And oh yes, I chose some buttons for my menswear! …Which, as it turns out, I only photographed with my phone and not my actual camera which means you’ll all see them later. But trust me, they are nice. We’re staying late tomorrow night so those of us who need to (i.e. me) can catch up on our buttons. Finally, I might be getting somewhere!